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Towson nonprofit in step to help those with disabilities

Leete Garten says the Abilities Network, the Towson-based nonprofit that provides an array of services for Marylanders with disabilities, has not only made his life better; it has become a big part of his life.

And because of this, it will always hold a special place in his heart.

"When I was younger, I had epilepsy," said Garten, 29, who like, his father before him, serves as a board member with the network.

"What Abilities Network did for our family, among other things, was to provide us with opportunities to talk with other people in the area with children with epilepsy. Abilities Network also provided us with connections to various hospitals and medical facilities that offered the types of special treatment that I needed back then."

Garten says his father was so grateful and so impressed with the Abilities Network's mission that he became one of the nonprofit's most active boosters and supporters.

"My father got involved back in the mid- to late-1980s, when it was still called the Epilepsy Foundation of the Chesapeake Region," said Garten, an attorney in the Baltimore firm, Fedder & Garten. "He began supporting (the network) because of the services that the organization provided for me. He really enjoyed being part of it as it grew and branched out to provide a wider range of services for a greater number of people."

Today, the Abilities Network serves more than 20,000 children, adults and seniors across Maryland with programs that range from autism and epilepsy services to job training and placement, as well as Healthy Families preventive health care programs.

Garten's father, Lawrence Garten, also an attorney, was originally recruited to the board by Diana Pillas, a counselor at the Johns Hopkins Epilepsy Center, who treated Leete as a child. The elder Garten not only joined the board, but also ended up serving as its president for two terms.

Leete says when his dad passed away in 2006, he was approached by several of the organization's directors and board members and invited to step into his father's shoes.

"At that point, I already knew a lot about the organization, so I was eager to get involved," said Garten, who has served on Abilities Network's board since 2006.

"It's personal for me," said Garten, who this year is also serving on the committee that's organizing the sixth annual Walkabout Abilities, on Sept. 30. The two-mile walk around the Goucher College campus is Abilities Network's most important annual fundraiser. In its first five years, the Sunday morning jaunt has raised $324,000.

"It's wonderful to be able to give back to an organization that provided so many great services for me and meant so much to my father," said Garten, a Mount Washington resident. "I've been lucky in that the people there did reach out to me and wanted me to get involved."

Garten says the annual Walkabout Abilities is more than just a fundraiser. It's also a great morale booster within the organization. Additionally, it goes a long way in terms of raising the profile of Abilities Network and letting people know about the work it does.

"I always look forward to the walk," Garten said. "It's a great opportunity for families to come out and support Abilities Network.

"A lot of the people who participate in the walk are the same people who are receiving services from the organization, though the event is wide open to anybody.

"Assuming the weather's nice, it's just a wonderful time for people to get together and walk around and enjoy a nice fall day while supporting our organization and getting it out into the spotlight."

The Abilities Network will hold the sixth annual Walkabout Abilities fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 30, at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, rain or shine.

On-site registration begins at 8:30 a.m. The two-mile walk around the Goucher campus will begin at 9:30 a.m., following welcome remarks and warm-up exercises,

Afterward, at Goucher's Dorsey College Center, participants will can revive themselves with refreshments, including Baskin & Robbins ice cream sundaes. Music will be provided, and there will be face painting, art activities and a moon bounce.

Registration includes admission, a T-shirt and refreshments. Admission is $15 for ages 12 and up; $10 for children under 12; free for kids 3 and under. To register or receive information about sponsorship or volunteer opportunities, go to http://www.abilitiesnetwork.org; call 410-828-7700, Ext. 1229; or email ldunn@abilitiesnetwork.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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